Public Has Negative Attitudes toward Press

September 27, 2011

pew-media-evaluation-sep-2011.JPGNegative public attitudes toward the press are at record levels in a number of areas, according to data released in September 2011 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Most significantly, 80% of US adults say the news media is often influenced by powerful people and organizations, while only 15% say it is pretty independent.

Similarly, 77% say the news media tends to favor one side, while only 16% say it deals fairly with all sides. Other negative opinions of the news media held by substantial numbers of adults include the media trying to cover up their mistakes (72%), having stories that are often inaccurate (66%), and being politically biased in their reporting and not caring about the people they report on (63% each).

In three areas, a majority of the public has a positive impression of the news media. These are caring about how good a job they do (62%), keeping leaders from doing things they shouldn’t do (58%), and highly professional. A small plurality (41%) say the media stands up for America, while an equal 42% say the media protects and hurts democracy.

View of Press Worsens Long Term

In the Pew Research Center’s first survey on news attitudes in 1985, majorities said that news organizations were often influenced by powerful people and organizations (53%) and tended to favor one side (53%). However, by a 55% to 34% margin, more Americans said that news organizations get the facts straight than said their stories were often inaccurate.

Opinions of news organizations in all three areas have grown more negative since then. And since 2007, there have been increases in the percentages saying that news stories are often inaccurate (from 53% to 66%), that news organizations are often influenced by the powerful (from 69% to 80%), and that news organizations tend to favor one side (from 66% to 77%).

Main News Sources Viewed More Favorably

Americans have a very different view of the news sources they rely on than they do of the news media generally. When asked to rate the accuracy of stories from the sources where they get most of their news, the percentage saying these outlets get the facts straight more than doubles. Fully 62% say their main news sources get the facts straight, while just 30% say stories are often inaccurate.

TV Still Top News Source

pew-news-source-sep-2011.JPGThe public’s top two sources of news remain TV and the internet. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say TV is where they get most of their news about national and international events, while 43% say they turn to the internet. About three in 10 Americans (31%) say they get most of their national and international news from newspapers. Radio was a distant fourth choice, with 19% saying they turned to it for news. (People were allowed to name up to two sources).

Historical Pew analysis indicates TV has dominated news consumption since the question was first asked in 1991, though the proportion naming it as a main source has declined during the past two decades. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, about eight in 10 adults named television as their main source of national and international news.

1 in 4 Get News from SocNets

pew-social-news-sep-2011.JPGAbout a quarter (27%) of adults say they regularly or sometimes get news or news headlines through Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. This rises to 38% of people younger than 30, but now spans a notable share of older Americans (12% of those 65 and older) as well.

Most of those who get news from social networks (72%) say they mostly just get the same news and information they would get elsewhere. Just 27% say the news they get over social networking sites is different than the news they get elsewhere. And when asked to describe what they like about getting news over social networks and Twitter, answers range from features of the technology such as speed, portability and brevity to ways in which the content is more customized, personal and topical.

Most Adults Use 3 or More Types Local Media

Other Pew data released this month indicates that the majority (64%) of American adults use at least three different types of media every week to get news and information about their local community, and 15% rely on at least six different kinds of media weekly. And nearly half of all American adults, 45%, say they do not even have a favorite local news source. Instead, in the modern local news information system, different media outlets, and in many cases entire platforms, are gaining footholds for specific topic areas.

About the Data: Some of the analysis in thePew report is based on telephone interviews of US adults 18 and older conducted by Princeton Data Source from June 23-26, 2011, July 21-24, 2011, and August 4-7, 2011.

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